A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student has been selected for a competitive new entrepreneur accelerator program for early-stage, minority, and women-owned businesses in Arkansas.
Nora Bouzihay, a doctoral student in education from Jonesboro, is one of 10 participants in the Arkansas Women’s Business Center and Remix Ideas’ unique program designed to support a segment of entrepreneurs that is often overlooked.
A part of Winrock International, the Arkansas Women’s Business Center helps women-owned small businesses start, grow, and compete in global markets by providing quality training, counseling, and access to capital. Momentum, the five-week accelerator program, is unique in that it targets early-stage startups with little to no revenue, some of which have not yet been organized or incorporated.
“What we found is that central Arkansas has really developed a pretty robust system of entrepreneur support organizations,” said Chauncey Pettis, director of the Arkansas Women’s Business Center. “However, there is still a disconnect between women in the minority communities and these support organizations. These women have less access to mentorships, training opportunities, and access to capital. Historically, women entrepreneurs are 50 percent less likely to receive capital than their male counterparts.”
Bouzihay launched her hijab and scarf company in March 2018 in honor of her grandmother, a strong woman who encouraged her granddaughter to blossom in life.
“My company is called Nowara Co,” Bouzihay said. “Nowara was a nickname my grandmother had given me growing up. It means flower in Arabic. My grandmother inspired me to blossom and to grow into a strong woman who could help other women and girls be strong.”
Bouzihay’s grandmother passed way in 2017, and she began to plan the start of her company to encompass her grandmother’s legacy.
“When my grandmother passed way, I thought, ‘What better way to inspire and empower young women and girls than through scarves?” she said.
Nowara Co’s scarves have been sold across the world, including Canada, Germany, and Abu Dhabi. For every three scarves Bouzihay’s company sells, one will go to a refugee overseas. Although refugees receive food, clothes, health supplies, and water, they do not receive scarves, Bouzihay said.
As a part of Momentum, Bouzihay and the other participants meet once a week with Pettis for workshops, guest speakers, and mentorship.
“They give us hands-on teaching on how to be a business owner,” Bouzihay said. “We are learning how to manage our finances, how to write business plans, how to use marketing tools, and how to pitch your business to investors. Being a part of Momentum is an honor that was not expected. I am very humble and thankful to be a part of it. It’s been a great experience.”
Pettis said Bouzihay was chosen for the program because of her excellent application, unique business model, and passion for entrepreneurship.
“Nora is a very passionate participant who is coachable. We believe in what she is doing and believe with a little bit of assistance she can be very successful,” Pettis said. “She’s been invaluable to the class and has been a full participant that has soaked up our knowledge and grown as an entrepreneur. At AWBC, we look forward to staying in touch with Nora as she grows past Momentum. We hope to keep Nora as a client and keep her involved in our programming and help her continue to grow.”
Bouzihay is also thankful for the opportunity to become a part of a strong network of business owners who understand what the unique challenges of being a woman business owner as well as member of a minority group.
“It’s very, very empowering to be around a group of women who are genuine and push each other to be successful,” Bouzihay said. “It’s very powerful to be around people who really want you to be successful and understand the struggle of being a female minority business owner in Arkansas.”
With the one-year anniversary of her business coming up, Bouzihay is planning to celebrate by raising money for a cause she is passionate about. She will hold a gala event at the Great Hall in the Clinton Library on March 2 to raise money for Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar living on the border of Bangladesh. An estimated nearly 700,000 refugees, more than half of them children, are living in Bangladesh,according to UNICEF.
“I am very interested in a variety of humanitarian issues,” she said. “This one in particular hasn’t had as much media attention, and I thought what better way to bring its attention through a huge fundraiser for them here in Arkansas. This is a first for the Natural State,” she said.
The gala will feature a “Muslims of the World” book tour stop. “Muslims of the World” tells the diverse stories of Muslims living in the U.S. and around the world. Illustrated throughout with moving photographs, each chapter focuses on different aspects of the Islamic faith and the many varying cultures it encompasses, offering tales of love, family, and faith while empowering Muslim women, refugees, and people of color. The event will also feature local youth performing songs and spoken word poetry, a live band, and cultural performances. Tickets for the gala can bepurchased here.
At the conclusion of the five-week program, Bouzihay and the other participants will receive $500 in technical assistance that can be used toward the development of their businesses. Additionally, the Arkansas Women’s Business Center has found five generous vendors that have offered services, such as web development, legal counsel, graphic design, and brand consulting, to the participants at a discounted rate. Remix Ideas will also host a pitch challenge for some of the Momentum participants on Feb. 22 at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.